Religion’s Substitutes

Busy Doings

Good doings substituted for original destinies – good stuff being the meat and drink of religion – infiltrates the saints through waterways of disappointment and deception, flowing into harbors of contentment and comfort created by religious institutions. Recognizing these substitutions may be more difficult than we think; the substitution of good for essential feels so good and appears so fulfilling.

We pile up good, skillfully-designed partitions to hide behind, to conceal the writing on the wall of calling and assignment. We celebrate the banal and mundane as an appearance of goodness when it will be forgotten altogether when the world’s on fire.

Luke 10 says,

Jesus entered a village during his travels. A woman named Martha made him feel quite welcome in her home. Her sister, Mary, sat with the Master hanging on every word He said, but Martha was focused upon kitchen duties. Then, she interrupted them: “Master, are you OK with my sister doing nothing to help me in the kitchen? Tell her to lend me a hand.”

The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re getting yourself really stressed out and self-absorbed about things you’ve piled to be done. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it and won’t be taken from her.”

Like Martha, we busy ourselves with courteous appearances, the trappings of kindness, because we make good a higher priority than essential. Mary chose something vital, but Martha chose something nice. What Martha chose was still nice, but she turned a bit less than nice with Mary because of her misaligned priorities.

Jesus ignored Martha until she demanded His intervention to suck Mary into her whirlwind of activity; Mary ignored the slavery of appearances, not because she didn’t care about Jesus’ comfort, but that she was close enough to Him that she realized He couldn’t care less about kitchen stuff. Jesus made it clear that Mary would continue to enjoy what she’d chosen because it was essential.

Jesus makes no room for paltry to denigrate indispensable.

But we do. Often. With flourish. In fact, the flourish helps us justify the denigration of the essential. We substitute reasonable for radical, presentable for passionate. We accumulate rather than disciple. We make people feel comfortable in their rebellion when God has taxed the stars of heaven to make the fullness of purpose flow through their obedience. Jesus ignores our kitchen prowess and imparts His best to those focused upon His heart.

I’m talking specifically about doing good deeds, deeds that should be done and are worthy of celebration, instead of obeying the highest designs of Heaven for our destinies. We cannot go to Tarshish when God has sent us to Nineveh. We cannot bring God the best of our garden when God has demanded the lambs of our flock. We cannot offer God a checklist of “thou shalt nots” we have faithfully avoided when He asks us to sell all we have and give it to those who cannot give back.

While there is nothing wrong with being rich, going to Tarshish, bringing God the best of our gardens, or doing good deeds, God couldn’t care less if we do these things instead of doing what He wants.

Apostolic Pain

The burden of apostolic leadership is people who don’t walk out their sending. Apostles are sent to bring people into their personal sendings, to prepare and position people to produce. This is the sense of “fruit that remains until it is ripened on the True Vine;” people need to get where God has them going, in terms of being who they should be and doing what they are called to do.

Paul says, “Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica.” [2 Timothy 4:10]

Watching people with specific assignments substitute good for fullness and fulfillment causes apostolic pain. Life is full of good and great possibilities, but none of these awesome opportunities satisfy calling as substitutes for God’s assignments. Apostolic pain pinches the soul when people with recognizable callings, gifts, and assignments walk away and justify their disobedience with substitutions.

Watching people with unresolved issues protect themselves from surrendering their issues to the Cross also causes apostolic pain. Life offers us tremendous opportunities to do good, but motivations of fear, avoidance, and approval addiction taint the best of these open doors. Apostolic pain presses the soul when people with leadership destiny substitute doing good stuff as justification for substituting these “controlled substances” for walking out their destinies and fulfilling their purposes.

The rub comes because all people are assigned to do good, but doing good cannot fulfill destinies and assignments! Recognizing these syndromes of substitution is a leadership burden. All the good things accomplished by doing good deeds are consistent with the kingdom of God on earth; however, these very things can also be grotesque to God when they are substitutes for what He really wants. We can’t get a pass on going to the nations by passing out turkeys at Thanksgiving. Feeding orphans is so Biblically “good” that we don’t need another lesson on the subject. We know that is good. Giving to those who cannot give back – alms giving – has a special recognition factor attached – “the Father sees in secret and rewards openly.” However, grasping hold of your little American life with both white-knuckled hands when you are called to the nations, called to the suffering of ministry leadership, is simply bad behavior. It is wicked, rebellious disobedience that no amount of doing good can whitewash into an excuse. And, no amount of feeding orphans and passing out turkeys will substitute for obedience.

Saul, Israel’s first kingdom  leader, fell into this trap, failing to follow through on a specific assignment, he substituted offering God the best sheep he was supposed to destroy as offerings and celebrating a great victory by bringing the defeated king home for a show. God’s answer offers no polite thank you’s for potential sacrifices and showmanship! He told Saul that 90% obedience is disobedience, that his substitution of good for obedience was akin to witchcraft and idolatry!

Let Someone Else Go!

Tens of thousands of modern American Christians live with this reality every day of their lives, and thousands of ecclesia gatherings provide safe harbors for their sin. Jesus didn’t mention the blessing and favor available for those who “give up houses and lands for the kingdom” as backdrop for a few super sainted missionaries so we could create a higher hero cult level for sacrificial obedience.

Peter tried this tact: “We left it all to follow you.” Jesus answered, “Hear Me clearly, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land – anything – because of Me and the Gospel will lose out. They’ll get it all back, a hundred times back, in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land – but also in suffering. And also, eternal life!” [Mark 10]

The kingdom of heaven has spiritual caste system! There are no special classes of whom God requires everything while others live at another class level of spiritual obedience that requires an hour on Sunday morning – if we aren’t busy visiting family, playing golf, stressed out from a big week, watching football, etc. God doesn’t have double standards of sacrifice, but He does have specific calling and assignment for His people. Specific calling and assignments demand specific obedience and fulfillment.

If you are called to go, you need to go! If it costs you everything, you gotta pay! If you don’t, you are wrong and rebellious. You don’t get to whine and moan about it as if God has no right to ask this of you while others get away with keeping their little American lifestyles. Of course, everyone is not required to go, but a whole bunch more have been called than are answering the call. It is time somebody said so!

God called Jonah to go. Not everybody else, just Jonah. Jonah didn’t get an alternative. Doesn’t really matter about comparisons and defenses: “send someone else” or “why me?” “It ain’t fair!” really sounds lame, right? When God says, “Go,” you gotta go!

I’ve had really good friends tell me “there’s plenty of need right here in America so you don’t need to go to the nations.” So? What’s your point? If God says, “Go,” you gotta go! You don’t get options A, B, or C when God gives you an assignment. You get up and start walking toward your destiny or you walk yourself into religion’s substitutes of good deeds, hoping for a pass.

Bottom line is that you can’t really tell when a person who is doing a bunch of good is substituting unless you have an inside track on personal destinies. Perhaps this is the missing link in the chain. Perhaps there isn’t enough Acts 13-like moments – “separate to me Paul and Barnabas for the work to which I have called them” – in us to recognize religion’s substitutions operating in disobedient people. Perhaps we have it too nice, no fish to vomit us where we belong. Perhaps we have just become so accustomed to people forfeiting their callings and substituting good-doings that we are deluded into thinking God is alright with it.

Beware the tendency the thinking that God is alright with something because He ignores it.

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